Thursday, July 28, 2011

In Search of Hoopal

Hoopal were Peter Mielniczek and Chris Gibbs, a street theatre and stage duo unlike any other who performed together most if not all of the 90's.

Due to their placement in the time/space continuum very little evidence remains of their work. Which is a shame because their street shows were deft, honed, absurd and masterful. As a performer I watched as they roamed improvisationally, exploring momentary impulses at whim, sometimes expanding into whole new 5 minute pieces, most often never repeated, and sometimes shrugging and simply re-entering the structure of their show seamlessly.

Their material ranged from prat-falls to referencing contemporary Russian philosophers, They would combine high and low theatre hilariously.

"I, Chris, will now read Sonnets from Shakespeare while my partner Peter, throws things at my head."

The commitment and seriousness and the imagination in which these two things were combined was essentially a great part of their comic bedrock.  [Among other things Peter would fix a ball on a string round Chris's neck and use him as a fixture to play tetherball while Chris, as best he could, recited Shakespeare]

They were a form of meta-theatre. They referenced themselves as performers trying to perform as their performance and referenced and deconstructed various tools and methods of performance as their main content. Two thirds of their original street show was a deconstruction of a simple ploy to gain attention. They spent 20 minutes setting up 'an accident' , a simple pratfall however the fact they could fill 20 minutes with sparkling inventive exploration towards this end was part of their genius.

Kids loved them because they were crazy and both impeccable clowns and adults loved them for the same reasons. Performers like myself loved them because they were entirely original and displayed a frightening proximity to whatever comedy fountainhead exists that we all seek to discover.

As I say, not much remains but I'm going to put up here what I have been able to find.
first an interview.


by glen callender ufa

Street performing is a diverse, exciting and often misunderstood area of the performing arts. Incorporating such elements as comedy, acrobatics, conjuring, music, and the spirit of improvisation, street performers can create laughter and magic out of their surroundings. At last year's Vancouver International Comedy Festival, The Peak spoke to acrobatic comedians Hoopal, a British street performing duo, and gained some shocking insights into the world of the street performer.

Peak: How has street performing changed your life- has it influenced your socio-economic status or anything?

Both: Yes, oh yes, yes it has.

Peter: I've become incredibly poor.

Chris: And I've become incredibly rich.

Peter: Yes, I've often wondered about that.

Peak: How do people react when you tell them you're a street performer?

Peter: People say "what do you do?" and you say, "I'm a street performer," and they say "oh, right! Oh, that's interesting! So what do you do for a living then?" It's kind of that attitude. It's a rare job, so I suppose you can't really be too precious about people's misconceptions, but a lot of people sort of think you're one step up from a vagrant, or sometimes one step down from a vagrant... . They don't understand that it's actually a valid form of performance, that it's just like theatre, cabaret, or films, or whatever.

Peak: You've performed all over the world. Do different cultures have different reactions to street performing in general or your show in particular?

Peter: There is actually an island in the Pacific that worships us as gods. We've never been there, though. But they, uh, saw our pictures.

Chris: If we were ever to go there, you see, it would deny faith. There would be proof that we exist, and we can't have that.

Peter: There's got to be a bit of ambiguity about whether God exists, you see.

Chris: They would start questioning natural disasters and whether there's right and wrong and stuff like that, and that's really not what we want. Some countries have an understanding of street theatre and some don't. In England, for example, the audiences are usually awful. They don't understand street theatre there. They're even afraid of you because you're in their street and because of what you're doing, but in Holland they think it's great.

Peter: It's basically a respect thing. Street theatre isn't treated with much respect in Britain, compared to, say, France, where we get very good fees for our work... the money's great, you're called an artiste, you're put up in a lovely hotel, and you're treated very well, whereas in England it's like, "Oh, you're here. Change in the toilets and go to work in front of that shop over there." And this really does affect the quality of the show-- shows aren't going to be as good if your treat you performers like that.

Peak: So far, the weather has been warm and sunny for the festival, but that's just luck isn't it? Since you're outdoor performers, what kind of weather concerns come into your act?

Peter: Well, you know, our performance is so... powerful... we have such a rapport with the audience that we can actually perform in any climate or condition. A few weeks ago we were in Holland; we did a show where it was pouring with rain, and it was about 10 o'clock at night, and the audience stayed, and it was a brilliant show. Everyone got soaked, especially us. And we're very physical so we were on the floor, and it was all mud and leaves on the floor, and by the end of it we looked like bigfoot, or the abominable wildmen of the mountains.We were very dirty. But it was a great show. It was very eccentric. We use our environment a lot, and that will include the climate-we improvise on what's around us, whether it be a child, a pigeon, or a rainstorm.

Peak: I saw your show twice during the festival, and it seemed that the best material was usually the stuff that you improvised on the spot.

Chris: The material that's standard between each show is really only the skeleton. The part of the show we're proud of is how we play off of each other and off of the audience.

Peter: That's what's nice about our show actually... it's always changing, there's always new things happening. The streets have a lovely immediacy and magic where things can happen, if you can deal with them or play with them. Anything can happen, much more so than in a theatre. You wouldn't have a pigeon or a kid run across the stage in the theatre.

Peak: Have you ever had any accidents, injuries, or other bizarre things happen during your show?

Chris: I jumped into a stream of sewage.

Peter: Oh, yes!

Chris: We were in New Zealand at a fruit and wine festival. It was about four feet from where I was to the top of the stream, and I assumed it was shallow, but it was actually about another four feet deep. And I basically just stepped in, and it was uneven underneath there so I kind of hurt an ankle. We finished the show, but we did another show later with me being replaced by somebody else. I just sat on the stage with a bandage on my foot. So that was quite nice, I got out of doing a show. It was a good thing, but it was very scary.

Peter: And there was a nice time when five skinheads came and tried to kill us.

Chris: That was nice. That was very bizarre. They came and chased us around, and in the middle of it I looked into the audience and Emma Thompson was there with a couple of kids saying, "Oh, it's awful what happens to these people."

Peter: Emma Thompson's like, "Oh, the poor lovies. The poor dahlings" and these five skinheads were trying to kill us!

Chris: The audience stayed. It was actually quite odd.

Peak: Does Hoopal have a cause?

Peter: I don't know about Chris, but I see it as subversive. I see the mission of Hoopal as to bring down the fabric of society. Through subversion.

Chris: I thought we were government puppets.

Peter: Fool! That's what I led you to believe!

Chris: Oh.

Peter: No, really. I'd like to bring down the government-the whole world-and everyone.

Chris: I just want to make people laugh, and see the smiles on the faces of little children.


as you can see they were as physical as they were intellectual

Chris is easier to follow up on. Peter however, still performing and still a clown, has a rarified exclusivity about himself.
These pics are by Mat Ricardo

I have it on reasonable authority, [Well Pete himself] That Mr Mielniczek will be gracing the Christchurch international street performers fest this coming Jan. 

And Chris has migrated to Canada where he's  helped create a small Canadian child and a body of standup comedy that is similar to Hoopals philosophy in that , as an audience you have no idea where the comedy is going but quickly settle in to the comfortable secure feeling that you are in good hands.

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